Thursday 27 November 2008

Killer Opening Song (Silvio Rodriguez - Canción del Elegido)

As part of our mini-series within a series of Killer Opening Songs that have become musical milestones in their own right, K.O.S. has invited the Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez to the lounge this week.

But before we set off on this musical journey together, a word of caution. This blog prides itself in being a paragon of common sense and respect. An open mind is a must-have accesory when you stroll through the doors of my small, but cozy, inviting and intimate cyber-house. Occasionally you won't like what's being played, shown or written, but the reader/blogger can rest assured that utmost care has always been taken before deciding to upload a particular post.

Why these cautionary words, maybe our non-Cuban friends are asking themselves? The answer is simple. Throughout his forty years of writing and performing music, Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez has become a byword for excellence in composition (an Ivor Novello would not go amiss) and political cowardice. His name provokes both admiration and anger. His masterpieces are highly celebrated around the Spanish-speaking world and derided in the same lofty way. Why this opprobium heaped upon this deft guitarist and marvellous lyricist? Because Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez at some point made the conscious decision to jettison the ideals that he sung to in his early years.

Which poses the following question: so what? Anyone born and bred in Cuba will be aware of the double-think process one is subjected to from day one. Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez has not been the only person to get into the bed with the same bureaucrats he used to lay into in his songs in his halcyon days, nor will he be the last one. Moreover, he is part of Cuba's cultural history, whether we like it or not and he will remain in that pole position, where we placed him decades ago, for years to come.

That cautionary note aside, let's allow K.O.S. to explain why he has invited such controversial musician to Our Weekly Session.

1969 was a roller-coaster for music in general: Led Zeppelin debuted their trail-blazing 'Led Zeppelin I' album, which paved the way for heavy metal whilst The Beatles gave an impromptu performance on the rooftop of Apple Records, which proved to be their last ever appearance in public. Other cultural events included: The Woodstock and Altamont Free Concert Festivals, the former is still considered a powerful symbol of the hippy era, the latter was viewed by many as the end of the make-love-not-war sixties. In the political arena the Vietnam war was still raging and causing uproar amongst the younger generation, spanning countless demonstrations in the process, whilst NASA and the Soviet Union were still in their 'swords-at-dawn' phase over control of outer space.

Away from these convulsions, but still with a heavy dose of political, ideological and social content in his songs, a Cuban singer was making inroads in the then nascent Nueva Trova (New Song Movement). This was a musical phenomenon that sprung mainly from Cuba's ever-inquisitive young people, who, although still sided with Castro's revolution, had already begun to question some of the narrow-minded decisions made on their behalf but without their consultation.

Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez was one of the movement's greatest spokespeople. His songs were full of the type of poetry that Night has always sought in vain to produce and which It can only achieve just as It's about to be swallowed up by the Sun, Its verses getting lost in the mist of dawn. Hence, it's always been the poet's job to collect those stanzas that have fallen off Night's bosom and stamp them on the empty page. Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez was that poet and singer. Because his lyrics were hard to understand the government chose to ignore him first and to censure him after. Thus, under these circumstances the Cuban singer-songwriter embarked on a journey bound for west Africa on board the Playa Girón fishing boat in September 1969. Nobody expected Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez back. And yet, he returned and the resulting album 'Al Final de Este Viaje...' ('At the End of This Journey...') laid the grounds for the further development of the Nueva Trova. From the Killer Opening Song, 'Canción del Elegido (The Chosen One's Song)' to the album title track, Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez touched upon issues like: social prejudices against women ('La Familia, La Propiedad Privada y el Amor/Family, Private Property and Love'), artistic integrity vs artistic compromise ('Debo Partirme en Dos/I Must Split Myself in Half') and his generation's eternal fight against the Cuban government's bureaucratic machinery ('Resumen de Noticias/News Round-up').

In his 1996 book 'Canciones del Mar/Seasongs' Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez wrote that 'Canción del Elegido (The Chosen One's Song') was an enigma to be deciphered. The truth is that many people thought it a reference to Che Guevara, whereas others firmly believed it was a paean to Jesus Christ. But that's Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez for you, an enigma. What cannot be denied is that this Killer Opening Song ushered in not only a whole catalogue of masterpieces ('Óleo de una Mujer con Sombrero/Woman with Hat', his homage to Chagall and '¿Qué Se Puede Hacer con el Amor?/What Shall We Do About Love'?, his questioning of love and its contradictions) but also a whole new era of song-writing.

The song as such is not without its imperfections. The last stanza seems to be an open invitation to wage war in order to achieve peace, a notion that the invasion to Iraq has already put paid to (Supo la historia de un golpe/sintió en su cabeza cristales molidos/y comprendió que la guerra/era la paz del futuro/lo más terrible se aprende enseguida/y lo hermoso nos cuesta la vida/La última vez lo vi irse/entre humo y metralla, contento y desnudo/iba matando canallas/con su cañón de futuro/He learnt about the history very quickly/and he felt as if his head was full of shards/it occurred to him that war was future's peace...), however, K.O.S. has to analyse the Cuban musician within the social and political context he was living in at the time and that was (and still is) the type of rhetoric one often hears in Cuba (no matter how anti-war the government portrays itself to be).

Very often Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez has been compared to Bob Dylan, an artist K.O.S. will be inviting to Our Weekly Session in a few weeks. Insofar as we see both musicians as trailblazers, anti-establishment (at the beginning of their careers) and artistically prolific, K.O.S has no problem at all with this analogy. Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez also suffered a dip in his popularity when he sought to branch out into other genres. This not always reaped the creative rewards his many fans expected and the backlash arrived in no time.

There should be no doubt, however, that Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez' music belongs in the Cuban cultural pantheon, despite his political leaning and his subsequent servitude over the years to the same government that attempted to close him down at first. And it is for his artistic talent that Killer Opening Songs features this important Cuban singer-songwriter this week. Enjoy.

(Note: This clip is from a concert Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez gave in Madrid in 1979).

Copyright 2008


  1. ¿Qué significa cadaján??? :-)

    Silvio... gran músico!!!

  2. Es camajAn (el acento no me sale en este teclado). CabrOn :-).

    Saludos desde Londres.

  3. Estimado Cubaninlondon, ya sabes cuanto disfruto tus Killer Opening Song. Pero, por todo lo que comentas en tu introduccion (BTW, excelente) su musica dejo de estar entre mis "posesiones" hace ya mas de 25 anos. Sus liricas me suenan demasiado huecas desde entonces.

    De todas formas, celebro que lo muestres a todos tus lectores no cubanos. Un abrazo desde NY.

  4. no sabía la hisoria del disco al final de este viaje...
    de hecho de la historia de silvio no sé casi nada

    y tú? cómo la pasas en Londres?
    yo fui a Cuba una vez, en 2004, pero no estuve mucho tiempo
    de todas formas me encantó
    espero volver algún día


  5. Muchas gracias por pasarte por mi blog...espero que tengas un lindo día y nos sigamos leyendo.

    Un abrazo desde Chile!

  6. I can't help loving the artist and hating the man, so I'm just letting go of him and his songs, because I can no longer say "so what". However, I do agree that he will always be part of Cuban music history, as both a genious composer and a coward, as you've said. Good post Cuban, I like it all the same. Regards,


  7. You pose a very interesting dilemma. I have a friend who now refuses to listen to Michael Jackson because of his behavior.

    I'm not familiar with Silvio Rodriguez - what an artist he is! Without knowing his weaknesses, it is easy for me to be caught up in his talent, but I can understand Yoana point of not being able to say "so what" any longer.

    Thank you for sharing this thoughtful post.

  8. Thanks to all for your kind comments. It's great to see diverse opinions underpinned by respect.

    Greetings from London.

  9. Hay canciones de Silvio que todavía las escucho y me emocionan, hay otras que simplemente no puedo escuchar.
    De Silvio me gustan las del principio, cuando era muy joven e ingenuo, aunque ya no me queda muy claro cuanto en verdad sabía entonces y prefirió callar. Me cuesta mucho trabajo identificarme con “El Necio”, por ejemplo. A estas horas de la locura y el tipo todavía intransigente y tan“necio” como todos lo que tomaron el partido radical de un bando o del otro. Necios los radicales de un bando, necios los del otro, lo cierto es que esa ‘necedad’ nos ha condenado a vivir sin país, dentro y fuera de Cuba. A mi padre nunca le gusto Silvio. A mi madre un poco. A ella le gustaba su irreverencia, pero dejó de atraerle cuando el trovador se convirtió en el cantante oficial ya ustedes saben de que y quien. Tampoco odio a Silvio como para querer arrastrarlo sobre rocas cuando su revolución se venga abajo.

    De todas formas, este es un post útil, gracias Cuban, por compartir algo que nos guste o no, es parte de la cultura Cubana, como también lo es Celia Cruz o Willie Chirino. Salvando las distancias... no de las 90 millas, sino de una tiranía a una democracia.


  10. Asera, entiendo y comparto tus sentimientos. "El Necio" es una cancion necia y lo que mas me dolio cuando la saco el susodicho fue que el proposito principal fue el de tapar la mala publicidad con el gobierno que le habia traido la cancion "El Problema". Ya ves, "El Problema" fue una vuelta al Silvio de este disco que menciono en el blog, el de "Resumen de Noticias", pero el tipo se apendejo y cuando vio que le estaban poniendo malo el pica'o, saco "El Necio".

    Muchas gracias por tu aporte.

    Saludos desde Londres.

  11. he vivido ligada a Cuba 39 años y Silvio es parte de mis experiencias vitales, su discografía me acompaña a menudo, unas canciones me son más queridas que otras, y es una música a la que no quiero renunciar, porque no toda la vida fue tristeza y precariedad,he vivido también muy buenos momentos y Silvio y su música, su timbre especial son parte de ellos, no quiero borrarlos...buen post Cuban, greetings from AH

  12. Now, we are talking about tolerance, democracy. Amazing all of feedbacks. You go Cuban!

  13. Ah, the controversial Silvio...
    While I was in Cuba I never paid much attention to him. There was something repulsive about the way the government tried to impose his manipulated talent on us. And all that arrogance of his! His obvious contempt for the rest of us (which perhaps was nothing more than the reflection of how much disgust he felt for himself). Such an unpleasant person he was (and still is). No, he was definitely not my cup of tea. Besides who the hell was going to like Silvio at that age (1990's, my teenage years) when there was Lennon, sounding fresher than ever after decades of being banned?
    Ah, but when you are born a Cuban you sign a contract with the Absurd that never expires. Under very absurd circumstances I left the island and crashed into a strange country. Suddenly I was a foreign, and Cuba was like a bad dream. But only in the beginning I was so shaken... (I think I still haven't recover from the shock). After a few months I started missing my house, my trees, my city, my friends, and even the rest of my dysfunctional family. I yearned so badly for them!
    That's when Silvio showed up. I don't remember who brought those tapes to that slum we were living at. All I can tell you is that I got obsessed with him. Why? Because every song was like an window to that world I thought I had left behind. By listening to him I could almost touch what I was craving for. With his poetry he filled my head with images of familiar places and episodes of the past, while he, a master of ambiguity, helped me to define to my feelings: "Hoy no quiero estar lejos de la casa y el arbol. Hoy quisiera estrechar mi ciudad sumergida...". He also gave me advice: "Debes amar el tiempo de los intentos, debes amar la hora que nunca brilla", made me dream of a better future (Me veo claramente), and gave me recipes to achieve it (Fabula de los tres hermanos).
    Who would have thought that he most hated of our trovadores, that despicable herald of the monster, was going to become my companion in those first years of exile?

    Thank you so much for bringing this up, Chelsea Boy. You keep writing post like this, and I'm going to have to declare you the Official Cultural Ambassador of Cuba in London.


  14. Gracias a los tres, betty, don eu and adriana.

    Saludos desde Londres.

  15. Excellent point for a good discussion.
    I agree with your word of caution, except that maybe when he "at some point made the conscious decision to jettison the ideals that he sung to in his early years" it wasn't cowardice but just a calculated business risk.
    If he wanted to stay true to his rebellious past, he could have easily stay out in one of his trips and continue to play the hero outside.
    Maybe he didn't want to adapt to a new society and a new public.
    To me it doesn't matter. I see two separated things: I like the music. I don't care the man.
    Al Godar

  16. Querido CUBANINLONDON (I love it!):
    Que puedo decir de nuestro tiempo. Un tiempo de tarados y desorientados. Un tiempo donde la controversia se nos daba con una curacha diariamente tal cual una dosis de medicina. Solo recordemos los largos discursos, la constante insesatez, el "dime que te dire". En fin, era de esperar que todo esto se conviertiera en un reflejo de nuestro comportamiento. Porque no Silvio Rodriguez "Domiguez" (jaja)? Que sabemos del autor? de su background familiar, de sus traumas y autoestima? A traves de la historia los poetas fueron eso, "animales de galaxia", gente rara, anormal y genial. Siempre en controversia con la razon. Creo que la obra del poeta, que por cierto casi siempre fue de gran calidad, debe ser lo mismo amada u odiada, en definitiva no es esa la reaccion que la buena poesia provoca? Ahora odiar al Senor Silvio Rodriguez "Dominguez", no se, creo que para eso necesitamos mas informacion.

  17. You're right brother, this is a killer song and clearly a great musician.

    What a fascinating topic - separating man from music...

    Instinctively, as a musician, my reaction is it cant be done...

    But then again...I think what your story suggests is that a human being can never be painted in black and white.

    We are full of contradictions, fears, prejudices... And yet there is something in us which dreams and believes and every now and then exalts our souls to a place beyond our long accustomed mediocrity.

    That is the music within us.

    In spite of all the other things that live inside a mans soul...

    The music can and should never be denied.

    Deep peace to you brother,


  18. Thank you all very much for your lovely and respectful comments.

    Greetings from London.

  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. Ya no puedo escuchar a Silvio, hace tiempo que sus canciones me dejaron de encantar, mas bien me traen algo de malestar. Las disfrute mucho en el pasado.

  21. Mucahs gracias por tu comentario tan honesto, Puchungurria.

    Saludos desde Londres.

  22. Cuban, no se de Silvio pero entiendo el dolor de nuestra gente. Me imagino que duro tiene que ser sentirse, como se dice en nuestra lengua? Betrayed.

  23. Yup. I do feel betrayed despite the fact that I still consider myself a 'silviofilo'. I guess that he has become part of the furniture of my life, like the relative you don't dare to be embarrassed by any more, but at the same time the one who makes you cry or laugh all the same.

    Greetings from London.

  24. Con Silvio me pasa como con un amor perdido, le escucho a veces y hasta lloro.
    Gracias cubanito in London y para que te consueles, hoy nieva en Madrid.
    un abrazo

  25. chiquita, te envidio, no nieva todavia en Londres, de hecho, no se cual fue la ultima que llovio :-)

    Gracias por el comentario.

    Saludos desde Londres.

  26. Tarde, pero llego...

    Muy buen post, Cuban, como muy buenas tus palabras iniciales.

    Me gustaron su música, las letras de sus canciones, la poesía en ellas. Y me seguirán gustando algunas, pues las otras me suenan huecas, igual que a otros que han comentado antes aquí.

    El Silvio oportunista y no consecuente con lo que cantó en su momento, ése no me gusta.

    Un abrazo desde Berlín!!

  27. Gracias, agu, se te agradece el comentario en lo hondo. Y no te preocupes, mas vale tarde que nunca :-).

    Saludos desde Londres.

  28. Hola London.
    Como siempre, me maravillo con tus posts, eres de lo mejor de la blogoestroika, amigo.

    Me retuerce de asco el Silvio-hombre de hoy.

    Me estremece la piel y el alma el Silvio-poeta. Cuando oigo sus canciones (no todas pero muchas) me pasa como a Adriana, las imagenes de tiempos hermosos vienen volando, no puedo evitar lagrimas en los ojos, me emociono como casi con ningun otro musico.

    Entiendo los odios que provoca, pero no puedo dejar de admirar las palabras y canciones de hace annos porque son parte de mi.

    Creci espiritualmente y me hice persona con "donde pongo lo hallado", "cancion de invierno", "me veo claramente", y tantas otras.

    No hay nada que cambie eso, porque ademas no deberia. A los artistas no se les mide por su posicion politica sino por su arte. Todo tiene su lugar. Si su lugar como hombre y cubano mas bajo no puede estar, su lugar en la musica cubana esta en el mas alto escalon.

    saludos, tremendo post.

  29. Gracias, lisetg, comparto tus sentimientos.

    Saludos desde Londres.

  30. Not liking Silvio's songs because of disagreement with his political views, is like not liking Diego Rivera's paintings because of the same. Or not admiring Micheal Angelo or Gaudi's Sagrada Familia because I am atheist. Or not admiring impressionist paintings from Van Gogh because he was mad and I am not (well I think).

    I am not Cuban, and I don't take sides in this case. I can appreciate how a strong social context of the Cuban scene creates (or forges) artistic genius. I cannot but admire his work and appreciate his strong cultural influence.

  31. Thank you very much, alfil, you echo my feelings.

    Greetings from London.

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